OSD 109: Sooner or later, help will not arrive

The agreeable idea that if someone tries to hurt you, you can stop them.

After the spa murders in Atlanta this week, there’s been a lot of discussion about the the fact that some Asian-Americans are feeling unsafe or unwelcome in their communities. It didn’t help that this dovetailed with a rash of violence against elderly Asian folks in San Francisco, either.

You know where we’re going with this.

Forbes published a piece called “More Asian-Americans Are Buying Guns For Protection From Hate Crimes”. As an example of sentiment along these lines, see this from investor/entrepreneur Avichal Garg:

We replied positively, and he replied with an image you might already be thinking of:

We’ve written a bunch about the roof Koreans of the 1992 LA riots, and it’s a complex history that deserves a lot more space than we’ve got here. There’s even a subreddit for it!

There’s a lot of context:

  • The killing of Latasha Harlins the year before

  • The police pulling out of Koreatown during the LA riots, leaving everyone there to fend for themselves

  • The military training that many Korean immigrants had because of South Korea’s law imposing mandatory military service on all men

  • The general patterns of self-reliance already extant in the Asian-American community, because of a fear (particularly among first-generation immigrants) that asking for changes in local government policy would get the community branded as “making trouble”, and would cause more problems than it fixes

  • It was just a deeply chaotic, disorienting situation. Koreatown sustained $500 million in property damage. A volunteer guard, 18-year-old Eddie Jae Song Lee, was even killed by friendly fire.

But let’s hear from one of the people up on one of those roofs. CNN did a profile a few years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the riots:

Chang Lee gripped his fingers tighter around the gun and screamed at potential looters from the rooftop of the small strip mall where he stood. The 35-year-old had never held a firearm before the LA riots. Lighting up the blocks around him, Lee could smell the fires burning in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.

“Where are the police? Where are the police?” Lee whispered over and over from his rooftop perch. Lee would not see law enforcement for three days – only fellow Korean-Americans, who would be photographed by news agencies looking like armed militia in what appeared to be a guerrilla race war on the streets.



“I watched a gas station on fire, and I thought, boy, that place looks familiar,” he said. “Soon, the realization hit me. As I was protecting my parents’ shopping mall, I was watching my own gas station burn down on TV.”

That he ended up on a rooftop with a borrowed gun was never in Lee’s life plan. He had quit his job as an engineer at an aerospace company to pursue what he hoped would be life as an independent businessman, opening up three businesses in Koreatown.

“I truly thought I was a part of mainstream society,” said Lee, who immigrated with his family to the United States as a child. “Nothing in my life indicated I was a secondary citizen until the LA riots. The LAPD powers that be decided to protect the ‘haves’ and the Korean community did not have any political voice or power. They left us to burn.”

When you get deep into gun stuff, it’s easy to spend so much time on gear, stats, education, and all the rest that you forget how simple gun rights really are:

If someone’s trying to hurt you, you have the right to stop them.

That’s it, that’s the whole thing. Interestingly, this is something that essentially everybody believes, at least when applying it to themselves. So when you hear people disagree about gun rights, it’s rare that they truly reject the underlying premise. It’s more that they’re processing their gut reaction to actually taking the idea seriously.

There’s a school of thought that goes something like this: “Yes, agreed, totally. If someone is trying to hurt you, you have the right to stop them. But taking that seriously means that people have to be allowed the tools to forcibly stop an attack. They’ll get the power to decide, all on their own. And some people will misuse that power. So instead, how about this: if someone is trying to hurt you, society will do its best to stop them immediately, and to stop the patterns that led to that. That preserves your right to not be hurt, without all the messy implications of letting you personally control your right.”

It’s subtle, but without realizing it, the well-meaning people who hold that view are skipping the central premise. Yes, society will do its best to stop people from hurting you. But gun rights ask a simple question: “What happens when that fails?”

Sometimes it fails because society tried hard to stop anyone from hurting you, but hey, shit happens. Sometimes it fails because society is incompetent or indifferent. And sometimes, for some groups and some people, it fails because society is the one who wants to hurt you.

Most of the time, help is close enough to, well, help. But we’re all just one stroke of bad luck away from a situation where nobody’s coming.

The silver lining is that events like these create something akin to an immune response. A single high-profile attack draws the attention of thousands (or millions) of people, and those people start taking preventative measures. And that makes every community safer.

We’re here to help. Come on by OSD office hours, we’d love to help you ramp up.


This week’s links

”The Pants-Optional Holster: PHLster Enigma”

Lucky Gunner reviews this new carry system. And huge props to our friends at PHLster for bringing some serious innovation to the field.

The New York Times profiles an 89-year-old grandmother who’s winning shooting competitions in India

Good stuff. Frame a story right and you’d be surprised which publications will like it.

Breakdown of a misleading “fact check” about Colion Noir

He got dinged (incorrectly) for explaining (correctly) how surveys about background checks are less definitive than they seem.


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